Taking your Kids out Climbing (Part 2)
The warmer weather is nearly on us and for many you will have decided that THIS year is the year to introduce your Darling Son (DS) or Darling Daughter (DD) to the full on joys of outdoor climbing. Following on from Part 1 lets have a look at actually taking them roped climbing for the first time. As a parent of two and a Climbing Instructor (MIA) I'm writing this blog mainly with the head of a parent. This Blog is aimed at those who are competent at climbing and rigging bottom and top ropes, if you're not sure then there are loads of Instructors out there (coughs....) who will gladly teach you these simple skills. Use one who is a Member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors.
You need to do your location research a bit first. The Venue has to be right or you'll fail before you leave the car. Short walk-in, sheltered, good flat base, easy access to the top of crag, none intimidating feel, EASY routes. May sound a lot but there are loads of crags that tick that box. See short list at bottom of page.
I would recomend that the crag is not the best place to first introduce your child to a harness. A kitchen/lounge is good for that.
You have a choice of two different types of harness, the fully body harness (see photo at top of page) or a kids waist harness. A full body harness is best for younger/smaller waisted kids as there is no chance of them falling out of it if they turn upside down. The kids waist harness is better for slightly older kids (Alex is 8 and he's just gone into one) and enables them to peer belay if there are a few of them.
You should also wear a helmet for obvious reasons, however a badly fitting helmet is worse than useless as it will just hang over the back of the head and the chin strap will become a neck strap. Get a childs helmet. My advice is to buy new harness, your child will be hanging in this, I'd prefer to know the harnesses history.
Young kids don't need rock shoes, a pair of trainers will be just as good. If you want to get some rock shoes then Ebay is your friend here. My son's current pair cost £5 and looked like they had been worn only a couple of times before we got them.
At the Crag
Don't faff but don't be like a bull in a china shop. Most kids that I've climbed with last 2hrs max of continous climbing so there is little point in rushing about. Take it steady. When Alex (DS) and I go climbing, the walk into the crag is part of the adventure. If he wants to head off the path to explore then I let him as the day is meant to be a day of adventure, this is not STAR WARS - we don't have to "STAY ON TARGET".
The first time I took Alex climbing I put his harness and helmet on, tied him on and then I just quickly solo’d to the top of the crag. Built a quick belay (he weighed 20kg and I could lift him with one hand so no real need to build a bomber SPA Assessment strength equalised belay but good enough so I didn’t embarrass myself) and then brought him up on belay. He was then constantly looking up at me and making eye contact, getting plenty of encouragement (not that he needed it) and climbed to the top of the crag. We had a Double Decker treat and he was able to feel like he had really accomplished something. We wandered down to the base of the crag and did that a couple more times and then went home. He loved it, didn’t get tired and had enough energy left to go and explore at the base of the crag and on the walk back to the car.
This is how I generally work a longer top/bottom rope session when I’m with my own kids and I’m on my own.
I gear up; harness, helmet and ALL the hardwear I think I will need for the whole session ahead. That includes kit to rig an abseil if I think I’m going to do one later in the session, any rope protectors, rigging ropes, 2nd abseil/belay device, lanyard, hair bobbles (if I'm with someone with long hair), snacks etc. etc. I don’t want to be at the top of the crag needing a big hex for a belay only to find that is back in my pack at the base of the crag. Time is precious with kids attention spans so don’t faff.
I like to challenge my son to see what, if anything, he has remembered since the last time we climbed so I put his helmet on but just give him his harness and see if he can remember how to put it on, whilst he’s doing that I’ll go to the top and start rigging the rope. If they’ve not put one on before then I would say don’t put the harness on until the rope is rigged.
I’ll try and choose a position for the Bottom rope where I can get at least 2 climbs from the same set up. I always make sure that the bottom rope carabiners (I always use two back to back at the point where the climbing rope loops through) hang in a position low enough for me to see them from the bottom of the crag. I don’t want the kids to climb past the anchor point and get themselves into a leader fall scenario!
I’ll then abseil down the route; many reasons for this;
It looks cool to the kids and they’ll fix their attention onto me as i come down.
The kids gain some trust in the rope, this might be sub-conscious but it does help later on if you have a concerned child who doesn’t want to weight the rope because they think it will break!
You can quickly check the route to make sure there are no loose bits of rock on the route.
Tie your kid to the rope and tell them to climb up to a point (about 6’ up) and then sit back in their harness. Lower them back to the ground and give them big applause etc. etc. If you’re happy that they are not going to freeze at the top and are going to be happy to be lowered then get them to climb again. Encourage all the way, help with as many pulls on the rope etc. to get them to the top. Ethics go out of the window 😊. It’s actually much better if they have sat in their harness a few times on the way up as I find that if they have done that then they generally won’t have any issues about being lowered back to the ground.
Lots of water/drink/snack between climbs. It’s amazing how quickly a child can become “hangry” if they are allowed to become thirsty. I can pretty much guarantee that they won’t want a drink but you must insist even if it’s just a mouthful!
After a few Bottom rope routes I’ll change to a top rope so that I can get the kid to the top of the crag. I’ve always found that children find this a great experience as they get to look out from the crag and they really seem to ‘get’ the view and the effort it took to get that view.
When they are at the top you can either walk off the side, if the path is relatively easy then I let Alex lead as it builds his confidence. If it’s a little bit scrambly then I’ll go first but I’ll ask him to find me the route I should take and point me in the right direction. Again, this just builds his decision making skills and makes him feel important.
Or you can rig an abseil. I always rig the “SPA Type Abseil” and choose the location carefully;
Solid High Anchors.
Nice flat take off point with an easy safe access.
No ledges on the route.
No Caves/over-hangs on the route.
Safe flat landing.
This is by far the most technical ‘rig’ of the session and you do need to be confident you know what you are doing and can rig it fairly quickly as whilst you are rigging it your child is at the top of the crag.
It’s fair to say that the first few times Alex abseiled he thought he was abseiling when, in reality, I was lowering on the ‘safety rope’ whilst he allowed the rope to pay through the abseil device. However, in his mind he was abseiling and that’s all that counts.
The important thing is to be very flexible on the day. The day is about them climbing and not you taking them climbing. Have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C etc. and expect to be at Plan G after 20 minutes. Some kids work on positive encouragement, some work the other way;
“I don’t think you’ll get up this one Alex, I’ll move the rope over”
“No, I will I will”
“Ok, if you really think you can but I bet you this half Double Decker that you won’t even get to half height it’s very hard”…
If you enjoy it, so with they.
Couple Of Recommended Kid Friendly Crags
Harborough Rocks - Peak District
This is a small crag made of really bubbly limestone that is awash with holds. There are caves to play in, a trig point summit within a 5min walk, and the descents are easy.
Windgather - Peak District.
You won't be alone here but this Gritstone crag is really good and the entire crag can be climbed at about V Diff with loads of Mods and Diffs in between. Some say the belays are tricky to rig at the top but I've never struggled.
Lion Rock - North Wales
Slightly bigger than Harborough or windgather and just as good. This is a venue that is used by many centres and SPA groups. As a general rule if the small car park at the bottom is full then so is the crag.
Union Rock - North Wales
Other side of the Lake from Lion Rock but with the easiest walk in ever. The belays are all there but you have to look a little harder, would recomend a set of DMM Offset wires for this crag.
A Topo for Union Rock and Lion Rock can be found on Jez's Website here.